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What is the big flap over murals along the Arroyo Seco about?
By Steve Hymon, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 12, 2007

The fine line between murals and graffiti.

Several weeks ago, Friends of the Los Angeles River organized an event to allow artists to paint murals along the concrete walls of the Arroyo Seco, near where it empties into the L.A. River in downtown.

The idea was to give those who like to paint or tag a legal outlet. Well-known artist Man One also was also involved.

That was well and good, until county Supervisor Gloria Molina caught wind of the event after the fact and hit the roof. She didn't like the content of some of the murals -- one showed a topless woman -- and worried that the murals would attract graffiti.

"We've always looked to them as partners in beautifying and greening the river, but with friends like this, who needs enemies," Molina said Friday of the group's mural project. "I think they have really violated their own mission."

The dispute got juicier when some of the murals mysteriously were painted over. The group had obtained permits ahead of time and wanted to know if the county was responsible for the over-painting, but the county said no.

"Why not paint some place like that? -- a completely degraded area where no one is living," said Lewis MacAdams, a founder of the group. "I think we opened doors to whole new communities who had never been around the Los Angeles River."

We visited the site with Councilman Ed Reyes last week. Reyes, the chairman of the council's river restoration committee, hiked up his pants and waded in his dress shoes into the shallow water to look at the murals.

Reyes, who was told of the event ahead of time, said he sides with Molina. Although he found some of the remaining murals interesting -- and we agree -- most, he noted, have been tagged in recent weeks.

"What really worries me is that a tagging crew is going to come down here late one night and run into another tagging crew, and someone is going to get shot," Reyes said.

Interestingly, he shares a similar frustration with the river group: Everywhere he looks, he sees graffiti, and he isn't sure what to do about it. Create a graffiti art park? Crack down with more cops? Nothing, so far, has really worked, Reyes said.

In that vein, city contractors last year removed 3,864,422 square feet of graffiti from 35,847 locations in Reyes' district, which includes neighborhoods west of downtown and parts of northeast L.A.

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